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Author(s): Don R. Warkentin

Source: The Mathematics Teacher, Vol. 93, No. 4 (April 2000), pp. 266-268
Published by: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
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Don R. Warkentin


Hand signals or gestures facilitate
communication with students
who are learning English


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A previous
versionofthisarticleappearedinthe that concept.When reviewing for the final exami
March 1999 issue of the CMC Communicator nation, I sometimes ask a student to explain or
define a certain geometrical term by using words
and an appropriate hand signal. Often, I then ask
Because all students should fullyparticipate in all students tomake the same signal. In thatway,
mathematics programs, theNational Council of all students can be engaged in communicating their.
Teachers ofMathematics has recommended that mathematical understanding.
educators identifyand remove language-based bar One year, I decided to use a digital camera to cap
riers (NCTM 1997-98,26). From my teaching ture images ofmy students demonstrating several
To gesture
experience, I have found that coupling the use of finger-mathhand signals. I created a matching test
hand signals or gestures with verbal participation that I then successfully used at a back-to-school or not to
in class facilitates communication with students night. I enjoyed hearing students and parents work gesture;
who are learning English at the same time that together to complete the short quiz. Itwas especial
is that
they are learningmathematics, especially geometry. lygratifying to hear several students excitedly say
Mathematics teachers need to realize that hand to their parents, "Those are my hands!" really the
signals can enhance meaning for our students. Try your hand at the ten hand signals shown in
Axtell (1991,7) states, "People all over theworld
figure 2.Write the letter of the correct picture
use theirhands, heads, and bodies to communicate beside each term.The answers appear at the end of
expressively.... How can we possibly communicate this article.
with one another without gestures?"
_ 1. angle bisector
How many hand gestures could be used in geom
_ 2. complementary angles
etry classes? I am aware of at least thirtythatmy
students and I have used this year. I created most _ 3. dihedral angle
of the examples of "fingermath," but some were _ 4. line of symmetry
inventedbymy students. One ofmy favorites is the _ 5. linear pair
four-person,eight-handed cube that I learned at an _ 6. parallel planes
NCTM conference (Schaffer 1997). See figure 1.
_ 7. ray
Throughout the school termwhen I introduce a
_ 8. rectangle
concept, I frequently demonstrate a hand signal
that students can use to trigger theirmemory of _ 9. right angle
_ 10. vertical angles

Prospective users ofmy finger-math technique need
a warning. Although I teach at a rural high school
in the central San Joaquin Valley ofCalifornia, we
are not immune to the problem ofyouth gangs.
Each gang apparently develops certain styles and
colors of dress along with particular hand signals
(Kaono 1992). Before using my finger-math test
with parents and students, I letmy principal and
vice principal examine it. Several itemswere
dropped to avoid unpleasant ambiguities or poor
public relations.

I believe that using hand signals is helpful formost
students, not just forEnglish-language learners.
However, my teaching technique has met with
mixed reviews frommy students. The following are
a few a recent examples. They are presented with
out any correction of grammar.
Luz Gomez wrote, "I think that hand signals
really works, not only because ithelps me to learn
more, but because ifs funalso. I also think that
Don Warkentin, dwarkent@dinuba-high.kl2.ca.us, teach hand signals helps me tomemorize the new things
es atDinuba High School,Dinuba, CA 93618. easier."

Vol. 93,No. 4 .April 2000 267

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although I believe ithelped more than I know."
Evenie Medina wrote, "Yes, the hand signals
helped me, throughmy homework and test. It's
like a funway of learningmath. I do recommend
that teachers use this kind of teaching for other

Ricky Gonzalez wrote, "The use of signals in

geometry has helped me because it gives an idea of
how a certain angle or line looks. The one that has
helped themost has been the vertical angles signal.
It letsme see that both sets of opposite angles are
congruent by theway my hands are positioned. To
me, visuals are easier to understand and that'swhy
hand signals have helped me."
my Jessica Nevarez wrote, "The use ofhand signals
^^^^^^H ^^^^^^fl in class has not really helped me. I think itwould
help though ifwe used themmore and ifwe talked
more about why we use that specifichand signal. I
think it's a good idea and that it'shelped some peo
ple learn formulas and properties."

To gesture or not to gesture; is that really the ques
tion?Try outmy technique in your geometry class
rooms.You may be pleased to learn that the careful
and conscious use offingermath will reinforce
meaning formany ofyourmathematics students.

Axtell, Roger E. Gestures: The Do's and Taboos ofBody
Language around theWorld. New York: JohnWiley
& Sons, 1991.
Kaono, J. "Gang Signs." In SUSD Street Smart Pro
gram materials developed by School Health Pro
grams,December 1992.
National Council ofTeachers ofMathematics (NCTM).
1997-1998 Handbook: NCTM Goals, Leaders, and
.a G H
"O Position Statements.Reston, Va.: NCTM, 1997-1998.
Schaffer,Karl. "Mathematics on Stage."Workshop
presented at theNCTM Western Regional Confer
ence, San Jose, Calif., 6March 1997.

co I J

I Fig.2
g Ten hand signals

Ruben Zamudio wrote, "I think that the hand

itwas kindof
signalsdidkindofhelp. I thought
silly for the first few chapters, but then I found out
that they really do work. I guess I found out a little
too late."
PhotographbyGenesis Ricabianca ofMartzen Studio; all rightsreserved
Jessica Iboa wrote, "Having some visuals helped.
Fm not sure how much because I haven't had any = = = =
H 01 <I 6'3 8'D
othermath classes do anything like that before, =9 =9 =f = 8 = Z = IOTopmps
'9 V 'f 4Q ti '0 zm^


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